Last week, the UGA Athletic Association sent out a note to Bulldog Club members offering the opportunity to purchase additional single-game tickets to three home football games — Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt — as well as single nonrenewable season tickets.
One of my brothers was interested in getting some seats to the Vandy game, so I called the ticket office to place an order. Before I could tell the guy what I wanted, he eagerly inquired, “How many for Buffalo can I sell you?”
I got the feeling they’re just a little anxious about unloading seats to that Sept. 1 game.
And that may not be the only Saturday this season when we’re facing the prospect of empty seats beyond the few thousand in the student section that have been going unused for some time now.
With only the two Tennessee schools and Ole Miss coming to Athens from the SEC and a nonconference slate consisting of Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern (besides the certain sell-out against the Yellow Jackets), the 2012 home schedule is one of the weakest in memory.
I understand the strategic reasoning behind Greg McGarity’s scheduling philosophy, imported from the University of Florida, and it may indeed increase the odds of UGA winning a championship. But a steady diet of cupcakes isn’t likely to be much help in goosing gate receipts likely already buffeted by a so-so economy.
Combine the lackluster lineup of opponents with saturation TV coverage and the increasing restrictions in recent years on football season parking and tailgating on the UGA campus, and it’s no wonder so many folks (especially young alumni) find it tempting to watch the Dawgs on a 40-inch HD TV rather than make the trek to Athens.
There are, of course, things that could be done to help the situation, besides adding the occasional opponent like Clemson to the lineup. For instance, relaxing the restrictions on tailgating. For many fans, especially the younger alums, that has put a real damper on the game day experience in the Classic City. Who knows, Michael Adams’ replacement as UGA president might decide to loosen things up a bit.
That doesn’t mean I’m advocating no-holds-barred tailgating. Again, I understand UGA’s reasoning there. Before the crackdown a couple of years ago, the North Campus tailgating scene had gotten out of control, with an uncomfortable crush of people crowded into the historic quadrangles and a corresponding increase in garbage left behind and problems with drunks relieving themselves in and around the campus buildings. It was hurting the university’s image.
But surely there’s some middle ground. Perhaps requiring fans to pay to tailgate in a more heavily controlled environment is the answer.
Another helpful move would be to shift games like Buffalo or Florida Atlantic to the evening whenever possible. (Frequently, it won’t be possible thanks to the conference television deal, the chief culprit behind some of those ridiculously early kickoff times).
Evening games would help because, even if you still want to tailgate in the current unrestricted areas and aren’t put off by the level of opponent being scheduled, there’s not much time for setting up and enjoying the socializing that is such a part of tailgating with a noon kickoff. Not only would playing these games at night make for a more comfortable experience inside the stadium amid the late-summer heat, it would perhaps entice more folks to come spend the day or night, boosting the Athens economy.
Of course, not everyone would like that solution. Besides the TV complication, one of the main arguments against night games at UGA in the past has been that they inconvenience fans from South Georgia who want to drive home afterward. But the reality is that the majority of the fan base of the future lives in metro Atlanta, not south of the gnat line. And many of them don’t really want to get up before sunrise to rush over to Athens and gulp down a hurried tailgate spread in order to make it into the stadium in time for an early kickoff.
I realize that not every season is going to have as unattractive a home schedule as this year’s. But there are growing challenges facing the athletic association in making sure UGA remains among the attendance leaders in college football, and they need to be addressed.
What are your thoughts on how to improve game days in Athens?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg